4 August, 2008

13th Civil Service Conference


TAKING CHARGE: LEADERSHIP IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE
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YBhg. Tan Sri Mohd Sidek,
Chief Secretary to the Government,

YBhg. Tan Sri Ismail Adam,
Director General of Public Service Malaysia,

YBhg. Dato Seri Dr. Mohd Nasir Mohd Ashraf,
President of the Administrative and Diplomatic Service Association,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh and good morning.

1. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here this morning to address the distinguished participants from the public, private and non government sector at the 13th Civil Service Conference. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to the international participants.

2. The Malaysia Administrative and Diplomatic Service Association and the National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) should be congratulated for their continuous efforts in organizing this yearly conference. I am positive the conference which have been held for the last thirteen years have provided excellent avenue for senior civil servants, corporate leaders, the academia and members from the NGOs to deliberate on issues of mutual concerns.

3. I welcome the theme of the conference i.e Taking Charge: Leadership in the Public Service. The theme to my mind manifests the concern of the Malaysian Public Service to better align public services with the needs of contemporary society. Given the current environment of volatile global economic conditions and escalating citizen demands for better and quicker service delivery, quality public sector leadership is a pre-requisite for effective or good governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

4. I am sure you would agree with me that the concept of leadership is neither new nor unique to the public service. It has been discussed frequently be it at the public or business forums as well as literature. It seems however, that interest in public service leadership has had resurgence in recent years. An OECD Survey shows that many OECD governments, including Germany, Norway, the UK and the US, have given high priority to this issue during the last couple of years. The Survey also highlighted that there seems to be a missing link or gap between the underlying values of public service and the interests of the citizens served.

5. It is acknowledged that the influence of public service leadership in terms of policy advices, policy implementation and decision making have profound and extensive impact on the life of the people. Nevertheless, the influence has a further line of sight in repercussions if not delivered efficiently. For instance, a flawed decision may have tremendous consequences to the society at large.

6. Leadership is indeed a critical component of good public governance. By governance, I mean the way in which the underlying values of a nation are articulated and institutionalised. It is these values that will guide the actions of public officials throughout the system and they must be embedded in culture. The question is how we actualize these values in the public service.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

7. The primary function of public service is to translate the national vision into tangible outcomes. The Malaysian Public Service has been successful in their efforts to drive national development and nation building as well as enhancing and upgrading capacity and capabilities. Within a short period of five decades, we have managed not only to build our nation, but set our foothold in the global arena. These developments congruent towards a maturing society and a maturing nation. The challenges of the 21st century however, is to steer the nation into a new dimension both locally and globally.

8. It is alarming to note that despite the numerous measures undertaken to improve the public service delivery, a recent survey by the Malaysian Integrity Institute, indicates that the public impression of public service delivery is even lower than its perception on corruption. In this context, I believe there is a need for the profiling of the public service image. The public service must look at its role with a new pair of eyes and through a fresh lens to ensure it rises to the challenges put before Malaysia with unsullied solutions.

9. Profiling the public service image can be translated through the inculcation of values which must be embedded among the public officials and transcends throughout the system. To my mind, the significant values that encapsulate the thrust of the public service are :

* Culture for excellence,
* Knowledge-based work force, and
* Mindset for the 21st century

Culture for Excellence

10. By culture for excellence, I mean setting high standards of performance with tangible goals and realistic plans to achieve them. This would require a change from an input-oriented practice to outcome-based approaches. The outcome-based approach provides transparency, as such, the progress of projects and programmes are more easily monitored towards the prescribed goals. The public also has the opportunity to see its value for money. The implementation of this approach is anticipated to improve performance and public accountability. Demanding a high standard of performance by itself however, is inadequate if there is no follow-through and follow-up action. We are often praised for having the best plans, unfortunately often lacking in the drive and commitment in its implementation and completion.

11. The public service should no longer be satisfied with merely mediocre performance and therefore, leadership in the public service must demand a high standard of performance. We must always challenge and stretch ourselves and never be afraid of coming out with new ideas and approaches. To quote Professor C.K Prahalad, “we must aim to be the next benchmark for others, rather than benchmarking others.

12. Attaining seamless service delivery is still one of the major problems confronting the public service today. World class public service delivery can only be achieved through a high level of inter-agency collaboration. Poor coordination amongst public sector agencies has resulted in overlapping of roles and functions as well as wastages in terms of time and resources. The gap between the centre and frontline service delivery needs to be narrowed. The public service agencies must no longer see themselves in isolation but rather as an integrated part of one government, many agencies, and one delivery. In this context, leadership in the public service must be able to work across organisational boundaries and bring together the various agencies to attain synergy in public service delivery.

13. As the society gets more developed, more educated and more exposed, its citizens become more aware of their rights and privileges. Furthermore, the globalised ideas of openness and participation raised the expectations of ordinary citizens to be more involved in the decision making process that has an impact on them. Today, citizens expect to be consulted as part and parcel of the policy-making process. This is in line with the concept of good governance which espouses the need to understand and engage the public and stakeholders towards the common good of the society. Whilst this may be departure from the conventional ways, however, partnerships, mutual consultations and participation should be the mainstay and modus operandi of the new work culture.

14. No matter how well the public service has performed in the past, we can never rest on our laurels and bask in the glory of our past successes. If we do, we are at risk of being overtaken by others in this world of intense competition. We must always be ‘one step ahead if we are to survive and thrive in this highly competitive global environment. Therefore, we must continuously strive for high standards of performance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Knowledge-Based Workforce

15. It is often said that without learning there will be no wisdom, and without wisdom we will always be trapped in the prison of our past and become victims of a continuously changing future. In this environment of rapid and unprecedented change, what is valid at one time may become invalid in another time. Similarly, what is relevant in one context may be irrelevant in another context.

16. As we move to the information age, information and knowledge have become important organisational resources. Knowledge is now recognised as the driver of productivity and economic growth. With knowledge becoming the unlimited and fundamental input for success, people are expected to increasingly work with ideas and concepts. As purveyors of actions and knowledge their important contributions are intelligence, talents and mental creativity. Organisational effectiveness will thus be increasingly dependent on its ability to attract, utilise and retain people with talent and knowledge.

17. In the light of this development, knowledge-based workforce forms the ultimate capabilities required by the public service. Knowledge-based workforce refers to result driven, focused, productive, creative and innovative team. It is thus pertinent for public service leaders to ensure that the culture for continuous learning is pervasive in their respective organisations and become instinctive and natural among the officials.
18. The culture for learning would also encourage the public service to be more open to external views and should not be afraid to learn from international experts, think–tanks as well as the community, since we have no monopoly to wisdom. Being open to disagreements and criticisms are virtues that should also be encouraged.

19. In the effort to attract and retain people with talent and knowledge, I have proposed at the last conference on the need for flexibility in recruitment, promotion and deployment. I strongly believe that new systems should be devised to attract the best citizens and the best brains to join the civil service. This would require flexibility in terms of requirement at different levels of entry points into the service. This approach I believe will help to re-brand the Public Service as the Employer of Choice attracting the best talent into the civil service. I do hope the proposal is still being actively pursued by the relevant agencies.

20. Another approach to develop the knowledge-based workforce is through mentoring and continuous training. In grooming good leaders, it is significant that they learn to lead from relationship with senior leaders who have served as coaches, mentors, teachers, and above all, good examples. In addition, young leaders more often than not learn to lead far more from tacit rather than from cognitive knowledge as apprentices of masters.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mindset for the 21st Century

21. No meaningful results can be achieved if the implementers do not have the appropriate work values and ethics. While value espouses the beliefs of an individual or culture, work ethics on the other hand, reflect a set of values based on the virtues of hard work and diligence. Hence, the combination of these two elements should mould the mindset for the public service in the 21st century. While I acknowledged that this is not an easy task to achieve nevertheless, the public service leadership should set the right climate for its people to embrace positive values and work ethics and it should be an explicit not implicit component in public institutions.

22. Public service officials must truly embrace the notion that they are bearers of the image of Malaysia globally. You have a duty of ensuring and more importantly recognising that consequences of your actions as public officials, no matter how trivial, have a compounded impact on our nation and future generations. This is a fundamental mindset and attitudinal change which public officials must endear.

23. Public officials too need to take pride in their duties as this is crucial to build a sense of performing one’s job to the highest standard. This certainly needs strong commitment and discipline. It is only when the gravitas of the role is tacitly recognised and understood, the willingness to listen and engage the customers, will drastically change. The attentiveness to details of perfection for service delivery will also command greater focus. The readiness to learn, and learn from mistakes will be more prevalent. Consequently, the discharge of the level of service will go beyond just doing a mundane 9-5 job regardless of where you are in the stack of ranks. However, the satisfaction from performing excellent job is immense and the greatest reward is through gaining public confidence in the public service.

24. The culture of innovation, creativity and continuous improvements should be adopted as a work culture at all levels of the organisation. We cannot afford to sit and wait, and then react to the continuously changing environment. To instill this culture, leadership however must allow some calculated risk-taking, experimentations and encourage their officials to constantly think of new ways of doing things rather than stick to the same old ways.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

25. In conclusion, let me reiterate that the three principles that I have alluded to i.e. culture for excellence, knowledge-based workforce and mindset change are not novel, neither new nor beyond reach to any public service leadership. I am sure in the course of your career most of you would have been exposed to them. Nevertheless, the public service is still perceived to be riddled with the same issues such as service delivery, bureaucratic red tape, poor implementation, lack of empathy and engagement towards customers, corruption and so on. I am sure as leaders of the public service you too are equally concerned with these adverse perceptions.

26. The Malaysian public like any other progressive society are becoming less tolerance towards inefficiency. They demand and expect empathy from their perspective. Therefore, I cannot but re-emphasized the need for public service leadership to take charge to overcome these negative perceptions and realign itself to the demands of contemporary society and global challenges.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

27. I wish all of you a productive conference and hope the conference will be a good forum for the sharing of knowledge and experiences. On that note, it is my privileged to declare open the Thirteenth Civil Service Conference on Taking Charge; Leadership in the Public Service.

Thank you.

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